Toronto Star

Nov. 22, 02:00 EDT

Life's never boring when you're Chigwell Defreitas

Just another day when man posing as Defreitas is freed from jail

Andrew Chung
Staff Reporter
Toronto Star

BIZARRE TWISTS: Chigwell André Defreitas, posing with his truck driving diploma, said he rolls with life's many punches.

He is a man whose life is the embodiment of the Chinese curse that one should live in interesting times.

He lost his father to an improbable blood clot. His green 1986 Volkswagen has somehow disappeared. He lost his trucker's licence for failing to pay child support. And he was sent to jail for seven weeks for insisting on his day in court.

So for Chigwell André Defreitas, it's not too far fetched that another man with the same last name and charged with three counts of attempted murder somehow posed as Chigwell. The other Defreitas made it out of the Toronto (Don) Jail on Monday to Chigwell's old city hall court appearance for causing a disturbance, and was allowed to walk gingerly out of the courthouse and into the crisp air of freedom when the charges were withdrawn.

`It's the type of stuff that happens to me all the time'

Chigwell laughs heartily. "Everything connected with me seems to have some sort of bizarre twist to it," he says, now back in his book-filled bachelor pad after his own proper acquittal. "It's the type of stuff that happens to me all the time. I have an interesting life."

The situation, he said, is comedic because of the differences between him and Francisco Defreitas, whom he says he has never met. Francisco is still eluding police capture.

Francisco is 27. Chigwell is 42.

Francisco is white. Chigwell is black.

Then there's the reason why Chigwell was in jail in the first place. It turns out he wanted to be there, on principle.

Rewind to Chigwell as a child in Guyana to figure out how he got this way.

His young father, Compton, just 26, developed a nasty bruise on his knee, a clot actually. He went to play soccer, and died. They suspect the clot moved to his heart.

The death, Chigwell said, made him resilient, believing that "everything happens for a reason."

Later in life, in Canada, Chigwell's main education was found inside the hazy Annex Billiards room. There, he met a motley group of "teachers," who made him read voraciously, from the Bible to philosophy. He formed his own beliefs. He stuck solidly to them.

In 1993 he had a child but he said the mother decided to leave him when little Chigwell Ayrden was just 3 months old. He hasn't seen the child since.

But he refuses to this day to pay child support — on principle — because he has no custody of the child.

"No one," he says spiritedly, "ever stopped to investigate if I was a good parent. My child was taken because of my gender."

Last fall, Ontario's family responsibility office acted to suspend his licence. But by the time he got to court, it had already been suspended. Too bad, he said, because he was making a life as a truck driver.

No work meant welfare, which got cut off too. He got a job as a wallpaper setter and had to drive illegally to do it. As bad luck would have it, he hit black ice and crashed and was charged with numerous traffic offences.

His car was seized, and has never been found to this day, even by the police.

Last month he had his day in traffic court. They couldn't find his file so the judge threw the case out.

Chigwell was desperate. He wanted his car back. He wanted to know why his licence was suspended without a hearing. He refused to leave the courtroom, so the judge banished him in the cells downstairs.

The next day he was charged with causing a disturbance. He refused $100 bail and was sent to the Don. There he stayed for seven weeks, enduring a stoning, a head-butt by a vicious jail mate, and someone throwing feces into the corridor.

Monday morning's court date came, but he wasn't let out of his cell. Now he knows why.

The correctional services ministry is still investigating, a spokesperson said. She could not say whether the court sent the wrong man to the jail. Or whether the jail chose the wrong prisoner to transport.

However, a source inside the Don said the jail is overcapacity by more than 100 prisoners. And in the mornings when prisoners are herded to court, most lights are off, both of which could have contributed to human error.

At least Chigwell Defreitas, who was released Monday afternoon, is free again. He's broke, and owing two months rent.

But he'll make it. He's had many jobs. He's shucked oysters at a local restaurant for 20 bucks a case.

Staff at the office New Democrat MPP Rosario Marchese helped him get his licence back too.

"He's a gentleman of no criminal record," said Joe Wright, duty counsel for legal aid. "He is poised and I would say he's a very principled person. He probably took the course of action he did because he felt a sense of frustration."

Despite his bad luck, Chigwell dreams relentlessly. Of selling children's books he's written. Of making it back to Guyana to help turn the country around.

Another dream, as a boy playing on a bridge over the Don River and dropping rocks on the carp below, was to see the inside of the jail that loomed past the shore.

He got his wish, and how interesting it was.

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